Tales from the studio

We've been recording 4 brand new tracks recently. We worked with Andy Hodgson at the fantastic Orange Tree Studios. Here's some words from Stu on how he found the whole experience.

I approached this recording session in the same way that I have all of our others…with a bristling feeling of excitement, underpinned by an abject sense of fear. Playing live is great, you can get away with the odd mistake, but in a recording scenario your every action is on full display and your mistakes are out there for all to see…not that I make many mistakes (ahem). Anyway, as I arrived at the studio and parked my van in a familiar part of the wonderful Norfolk countryside, I took a deep breath, sucked in the clean Norfolk air and bathed in the glorious sunshine that flashed through the trees, thanking the gods that I get to spend my days doing something that I thoroughly love…even if it is terrifying at times! 

I rang the very harmonic sounding doorbell and a was met by the cheery face of Andy Hodgson who warmly welcomed me to the OrangeTree Studios. As I entered the door, all fears immediately floated away into pure, unadulterated excitement…this place is phenomenal! Andy had clearly built a studio that was modern, vibrant and, more importantly, built to capture the best from every artist that he works with. The recording room was big and lined with some amazing equipment, including some rare and unique amps from Abbey Road with quite the heritage…if only you could get them to tell their story! The recording desk was a monster and I had no doubt that Andy would be getting the best sounds from us, bringing the new tracks to life just as we had been envisioning them after all the hard weeks spent honing them in the rehearsal studio. The studio is super comfortable and felt instantly at home as we settled into the first of many cups of coffee in the chillout room, that was adorned with polaroids of the many artists that had recorded there previously on the wall of fame, with the aptly named ‘wall of shame’ illustrating some hilarious quotes that had been spoken since the studio had been running. More importantly the studio has a pool table which was great for breaking away from the recording vie for a bit but did nothing for inter-band rivalry! The walls of the studio are covered in speaker cones and an array of wonderful artist portraits. It really is the most amazing place to be creative with every facet designed to capture your sound. 

Obviously capturing the drums is the most important part of recording, so I set up my Cambridge Drum Company Kit and opted to use the studios Meinl cymbals. Andy was on hand to offer great advice on what works for our sound and what doesn’t, his years in the industry and at the helm shine through and we were keen to absorb as much of it as we could. I play an old fashioned 5-piece set-up of kick, snare, two rack toms and a floor tom. I notice that many of todays drummers opt for a 4-piece set and use only one rack tom, but I like the flexibility the additional tom gives me, although it does hide my beautiful face from the crowd somewhat. For more info on my kit and set up, you can go here. Back to the script…Andy doesn’t fully mic the kit on the first day, instead we have a couple of mics to capture the room sound so that we can capture guide tracks from all 4 of the tunes that we will be recording ‘Gimme Something’, ‘Gone’, ‘All the Good People’ and ‘Little Mistake’. At this point I’m in the main room on my own with Pete and Jas plugged directly into the equipment and sitting behind the desk where Andy is coordinating proceedings. We get a click track going and we thrash out the four tunes that will form the new EP without too much trouble. We have a couple of minor issues to get over in ‘Gone’ but Andy has some great ideas which we discuss and agree on a new approach to the tune. Oh, it’s going to be banging! As such, we pack up for the day and hop over to the local pub for a beer. 

Day two is drums and bass day. Andy has set up many mics around the kit to capture each individual drum as well as overhead, mid room and far room mics. Again, I am all on my own in the main room and am presented with headphones so that I can converse with Andy behind the desk and can play along to the guide tracks that we created the day before. After a couple of practice runs Andy presses record (or whatever wizardry he needs to do at the desk) the click starts, I play along until the end of the song and I wait in silence for a bit for Andy to provide some feedback. There are lots of ways to do it and some engineers/producers like you to record bits, dropping you into certain sections of the tune to capture grooves, fills or specific sounds. For this session I am playing the full song through 3 times. This will give Andy the opportunity to pick and choose bits between the three as he edits and mixes the tracks. We steam through the 4 tunes in what seems like no time at all, in reality it took about 4 hours to capture the drum tracks. I finish up by capturing some individual sounds from each of the drums and cymbals. Again, this provides Andy with further stuff that he can use in mixing. After lunch its over to Jas and he lays his bass lines down over the drum tracks that I’ve just recorded. This approach obviously means that the rhythm section comes through as a tight unit, just as we do in the live scenario. 

Days 3 and 4 are all about Pete putting down guitar and vocals. I provide backing vocals and we even got Jas singing again in a ‘gang vocals’ approach, but I won’t steal Pete’s thunder, he can tell you all about guitars and vocals. 

In short, this was just an amazing recording experience. Andy is a great guy to work with and his studio is nothing short of a heavenly place to be. I have no doubt that this EP will be the best sounding thing we have produced and the songs are all epic, nothing short of what you expect to hear from The Magic Es. I can’t wait to do it all again sometime soon.